I’ve spoken about the new home help for Mom in a previous post. As some of you have mentioned, sharing your home with someone new can take some getting used to. Well, I think I can get used to it…

I find cooking is a lot easier when there is someone else to do the chopping, dicing, frying and whatever else needed doing as well as washing up. So all I need to do is decide on the dish, get the ingredients and recipe, and give instructions. Then hang around the kitchen making little tweaks, tasting and adjusting.

Yep, I can get used to this way of cooking.



Words that Move

The Power of Words. Of course, words are powerful – we are blog readers and writers, and we believe in the power of words. Sometimes, just a few words said in brief conversation convey a wealth of meaning and have a lasting impact. Let me relate some examples that happened to me, and please tell me what you think.

Recently, I was updating a specialist about how another specialist slipped up in my mother’s care. He reminded me what was important was that Mom was okay, and added with a sly smile, “Your mother doesn’t need any specialists, she has you.” Wow! Powerful words indeed! It was so unexpected that It made me laugh, yet gave me such a boost. At the same time, it was a reminder that as my mother’s daughter, it was also my responsibility to watch out for her. I will definitely remember this.

Several years back, an old retiree asked me if I cooked, and I bemoaned the fact that I had a very limited repertoire and cooked only a few times a month, if at all. “Excellent!” he said, and encouraged me to keep at it. “A mother’s cooking is special, and your children will return to it and appreciate the home cooked flavors.” Over the years, I’ve found that he is right. I still have only a few dishes, but these are now reliably good and relished when produced! The old gentleman’s few words and quiet confidence was compelling enough to create a real difference to my home.

For my last example, let me start with the wrong thing people say when I tell them I am now divorced…
1. “Oh, no! What happened, what happened?!”
2. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”

Arrggghhhh!!! Wrong things to say to me. If you’re a close enough friend, I’d have let you know. Otherwise, buzz off and no condolences needed – it wasn’t a good thing I buried.

I finally heard the right thing, and it was said with some regret “Oh, I didn’t know. I didn’t know that…. When did this happen?” Ah, thank you for not saying you’re sorry it happened.

Cooking Hints

As I was about to send the daughter off, she asked me to type out some easy recipes for her. She knows basic cooking but living away from home, she found meal planning and cooking more difficult than she had anticipated.

Eating in Singapore is easy and cheap. There’s a huge variety in hawker centres and food courts, it doesn’t cost much more than doing it yourself and is very convenient. In many homes, domestic workers take over the chore of cooking. Many working women I know don’t cook and proudly declare they cannot cook.

Though Mom worked, she used to cook all our meals when we were young. I don’t know how she coped. We helped her out occasionally, if only by telling her what we wanted to eat to spare her from having to plan. As far as I can tell, Mom cooked normally until a couple of years ago when she probably gravitated to simpler dishes as forgetfulness set in. Months before her stroke, she seemed to have prepared the same one pot meal everytime I checked. Apparently, a loss of cooking skill is an early sign of dementia but being apart, I hadn’t really noticed.

For myself, I’m a rare cook, often relying on cookbooks. I consider my meals edible, and perhaps “homely”, but certainly not anything to shout about. Anyway, to help my daughter, I wrote the following email in twenty minutes flat, filled with many items I haven’t cooked in years! It is written in a shorthand offhand way, with the understanding that the reader knows cooking and just needs a bit of prompting. I hope she finds it useful, and adjusts the quantities and seasonings successfully!

1. Egg

Fried egg
Omelette – onion. Fry onion with bit of salt until softened. Add beaten egg mixed with bit of soya sauce.
Omelette – green beans
Omelette – mushroom
Omelette – any vegetable
Omelette – minced meat. Mix meat and beaten eggs, add pepper and bit of soya sauce. Fry in well-oiled and heated pan.
Steam egg – beat egg into ceramic plate/ shallow bowl. Add chicken stock and pepper. Put on rice in rice cooker.

2. Veg

Stir fry – any veg stir fry with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Fish
Fish in ceramic plate – season with salt and pepper, or teriyaki sauce. (Make own teriyaki sauce – one tablespoon each dark soy sauce, mirin, sweet rice wine). Put under grill or in toaster about 20 minutes basting every 5 mins until cooked.
Steamed fish – add one tablespoon soya sauce, slivers of old ginger, put on top of rice in rice cooker.
Asam fish – buy bottle of assam paste – follow instructions on bottle.

4. Tofu
Steamed tofu – put in ceramic bowl, add one teaspoon soya sauce, one tablespoon oyster sauce, spring onion etc, put on top of rice in rice cooker

5. Pork
Slice pork thinly, season with cornflour, 1 tablespoon dark soya sauce, 1 teaspoon soya sauce. Stirfry with ginger strips.

6. Beef for pasta
Dice one onion and 3 cloves garlic. Fry until soft. Add minced beef and fry until brown, keep stirring. Add one can/ one bottle pasta sauce, bring to boil.

Boil pasta according to packet instructions.
Eat with salad.

7. Claypot chicken rice in rice cooker.
Soak four black mushrooms until soft, slice up. Slice one chinese sausage.
Season chicken pieces with oyster sauce, dark soya sauce, pepper.
Wash rice and put in rice cooker. When rice starts boiling, put chicken, mushroom and sausage on top. When cooked, stir well before eating.
Eat with sliced cucumber.

8. Simple meals without cooking or with minimal cooking.

Chicken sandwiches – buy cooked chicken. Add tomato, cucumber, lettuce.
Fried egg sandwich.

9. Fried rice.
Warm old rice from fridge in microwave.
Chop up leftover meat/chinese sausage/ luncheon meat. For greens use diced long beans, frozen peas/ carrots. Beat one egg.
Prepare one table spoon dark soya sauce, one teaspoon soya sauce.
Fry vege with/without garlic. Add bit of salt if veg is not salted. Add meat and stir till well-heated up.
Add rice and stir in sauces, when rice is heated, add beaten egg, stirring well all the time.

10. Shopping list

Oyster sauce
Dark soy sauce
Light soy sauce
White pepper
Cooking oil.
Teriyaki sauce.
Pasta sauce.


Tomatoes, cucumber.
Yogurt, Milk, Ice cream
Jam, Nutella, Butter

Dry pasta
Chinese mushroom
Chinese sausage

Fish steaks
Boneless chicken thigh
Minced beef – just before cooking
Salad – eat soon

Chinese New Year meals

2013_02_09 CNY eve

Tomorrow is the Lunar New Year, celebrated by Chinese all over the world. That makes today The Day for the Reunion Dinner for Chinese families.

Until my paternal grandparents both passed away, reunion dinners were held with them. They were not formal dinners, but it was important to show up and eat. As my Dad had a large family, there were plenty of uncles and aunties and cousins about during those occasions.

Mom used to prepare food for the first day of the Lunar New Year for the hordes of relatives. They all came over. Her preparation would start weeks in advance!

She’d make Chinese sausages, and I used to get finger and hand cramps cutting up the meat for the sausages – using a meat grinder would not achieve the right texture, so everything had to be sliced and diced. Then we would help Mom “pump” the marinated meat into gut sleeves. “Pump” is the correct word because Mom had a huge syringe custom-made out of aluminium or something.  We put all the marinated meat in the end of the syringe, stuck the pointed end of the syringe into the gut opening, and “pushed” the end of the syringe. I remember the meat would slip in and the gut swell out with a woosh and gurgle.  Then we would measure and tie off the sausage lengths before hanging them out to dry. And the house would smell of drying sausage for many days.

On the first day of Lunar New Year, in addition to the Chinese sausage, we would have steamed chicken, steamed fish, soup with lotus root, stuffed vegetables and beancurd (niang toufu), braised pork, vegetables. The table would be full of good food, and everyone would tuck in. For the meal itself, all I can remember contributing was carrying the dishes out, and laying the table. I was never considered good enough to help with making or cooking the food! Some of the aunts came early and helped with the cooking, and they all helped with the washing up, so I was really let off easy.

It’s been a long time since Mom did major cooking like that. And no way will I prepare a meal with so many “made from scratch” items. So some traditions die off, and remain only in memory.

Chicks in the Kitchen

I may have mentioned my mom was a very good cook. When we were very young, mom raised poultry from chicks – both to ensure tasty chicken dishes from well-fed hens, and to save some money in the process.

I remember squatting in the corner of the kitchen where the chicks were housed. Usually we would start with 12 of them – bright yellow round blobs and chirpy. They were kept indoors in a cage with fine wire mesh so that cats, rats and snakes could not get at them. My duty was to change the water and newspaper and feed them. When they got larger, they were transferred to the chicken coop at the back of the house. Occasionally we collected eggs, and the hen’s first eggs were considered special and saved for us kids to eat.

Sometimes mom would let a couple of them free range in the garden (well before the days of carpet grass of course). Now and then, she would say, go catch a chicken for dinner… and we would chase the poor bird squawking and flapping all round the garden. She would always have to come out and capture the chicken herself.

The next part of this blog may be a bit too graphic for animal lovers, so please be warned, and feel free to click away now.

Killing the chickens was a job normally left to the adults. In my memory, my paternal grandma was just masterful at this, and mom learned the method from her. One day, grandma felt I was ready to help out and she held the chicken with neck stretched out for me. I could only make a few tentative slices  with the knife and grandma had to execute the coup de grace.

The next time, grandma decided I was going to be useless with the knife and asked me to hold the chicken for her instead. Mind you, she could do everything with her own two hands, but she saw I was eager to learn and so she let me participate.

I was to hold the hen’s wings with my left hand, and grab the head with my right. After grandma had made the necessary slit, I was supposed to tilt the chicken so that the blood would flow out the neck and into a bowl. I was also to spill some of it on the prayer paper next to the bowl.

So I held on to the chicken and told grandma I was ready. She made the slit. And the chicken struggled and struggled, and first my left hand lost its grip and then my right hand let go. Flapping and bleeding, the chicken “jumped” away from me and got further and further. Grandma yelled, put down the knife, and went after the chicken. In the end, there was some blood in the bowl, about one-third as much as expected, and to top it off, it was contaminated with blades of grass.

I was never asked to help out again.

In any case, we lost so many chicks and young hens to snakes, rats and cats that mom decided it was not worth the trouble raising our own poultry. She “progressed” to buying them from the market plucked and cleaned, ready for cooking.


(P/s to read a funnier account of the chicken that got away, read Eric Alagan’s blog post here)